How I formed an Airbnb of students hostels

Praise Benaiah Wepundi, a 21-year-old who founded EasyHouse, an online platform that connects university students with property owners around Kenya's learning institutions. PHOTO | POOL

Two years ago, Benaiah Wepundi and his friends went out in search of student accommodation and discovered a big problem. They could not find an affordable and reliable hostel when joining the Catholic University of East Africa (CUEA).

Most Kenyan universities have limited bed spaces within the university, while nearby hostels are either too pricey or few.

This became their biggest break into a business that promises even bigger returns.

Mr Wepundi was forced to stay with his aunt who was living in Nairobi's Ngara, about 22 kilometres from the university which is located off Langata.

"You can imagine the expenses and hustle of travelling from Ngara to Rongai every day," he says.

It was during one of his commutes that he realised two key problems that would form the basis for the founding of EasyHouse, an online platform that connects university students with property owners around Kenya's learning institutions.

"Travelling a long distance to look for property is hard, especially for a student, and then secondly, you may find a place but it is not as affordable," says the 20-year-old law student.

EasyHouse started as a simple listing platform where agents and landlords could post properties, allowing students to get their preferred accommodations.

"The initial reception was not good. There was the issue to trust because anyone can just come up and post a property that does not exist," he explains.

To overcome the hurdle, Mr Wepundi tapped into his friends' expertise. Cedric Wekesa, based in the US, was not only among the first investors but being a business founder, he naturally served as an advisor.

Linda Gikunda handled communication and compliance, Ian Nyongesa, a commerce student helped to run the business, while Oscar Wanjala, a software developer, handled the technology underpinning the business.

“Ian, Linda, Oscar, and I were the first co-founders. We built EasyHouse from the ground up. We started figuring out what it is we exactly wanted to do and built a system, a network with agents and landlords," he says, adding that Mr Wanjala and Mr Nyongesa however, left along the way to pursue other opportunities.

Today, EasyHouse has 31 hostels listed on its platform located around Nairobi's Langata which neighbours several universities including the CUEA, Multimedia University, Africa Nazarene, Cooperative, and Strathmore.

Besides easing accommodation for Kenyan students, the platform also allows international learners to book accommodation from their home countries before joining universities.

“Today, a student from Uganda coming to study in Kenya can book accommodation directly and a student from Kenya going to study in Uganda can get accommodation directly from EasyHouse," says Mr Wepundi.

As of last week, EasyHouse had processed 2,700 booking requests for the September-December semester.

"About 30 percent of our requests originate from countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, and DR Congo. We have like close to 300 requests from those areas,” he says, adding that they offer services in Kajiado, Kiambu, and Nairobi counties.

Rentals range between Sh8,000 (bedsitter) and Sh15,000 (one bedroom). EasyHouse charges a three-percent commission on every booking.

“Some institutions might decide this is a convenience they want to offer to their students where they can cover these costs for the students so that the student does not have to carry the grant.”

Mr Wepundi who invested about Sh400,000 on the platform through personal savings and grants has employed 14 people directly.

“To date, we've spent over Sh300,000 to set up the company and put it on its feet. This has gone into development expenses, market research, branding, and marketing, registration, and compliance.”

What has he learned in his business journey?

“The first thing is never to give up because we have pivoted the model thrice and failed twice but at least at the end of it all we have figured it out. I think the problem with our generation is that we have a money-fast mentality. What has brought us to this point is the fact that we focus on solving the problem, then resources start flowing,” he says.

The firm plans to expand to DR Congo as well as raise funds to grow the platform.

“The most obvious challenge is financing. Getting funding is tough, especially when people consider most of us are aged between 19 and 20,” says the entrepreneur who is also a software engineering student at Moringa School.

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